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Monday, May 27, 2024
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Four ways to tackle the housing crisis – and one that will never happen

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HERE are some ideas to solve the housing shortage.

1 Curb land banking

Developers, especially the big ones, hold many acres of land for which they have already obtained planning permission to build houses but refrain from doing so in order to cash in on future house price rises and take advantage of local government development of infrastructure which they might otherwise be forced to build themselves to enable their work to proceed. Developers should be required, as part of the planning approvals, to start and continue to completion the work approved within six months of the approval or otherwise the permission lapses without any reimbursement of the costs incurred.

2 Use brownfield sites

Developers dislike brownfield sites because of the extra work involved in restoring them to make them suitable for housing. There are many such sites; good examples include disused railway yards and sidings. These would require removal of lines, signal boxes and other defunct rail equipment. Building a high wall to cut noise from the remaining operational lines would also be required and be expensive. So local councils and railway line owners (who would benefit by being relieved of responsibility for them) should be required to offer financial incentives to developers to use brownfield sites. Furthermore, councils should not approve any greenfield site developments until all brownfield sites in their area have been used.

3 Bring back prefabs

At the end of WWII estates of ‘prefabs’ sprang up around Britain. These were small factory-built homes quickly erected on site which helped people who had lost their houses in the Blitz. Interestingly, many years later a lot of prefab residents said how they loved them and would continue living in them. There are many companies producing modular housing units of all sizes and degrees of luxury which can be set up permanently in a matter of days. Councils could invite tenders for estates of modular houses. The councils would have to build the roads and the utility companies would have to provide water, electricity and broadband hopefully without needing incentives.

4 Simplify the batty planning rules

Oh my goodness how byzantine and in many cases pointless they are; but they do provide jobs for lazy, incompetent people in luxury offices and with generous salaries plus excellent pensions, index-linked, and an early retirement age which people in the private sector, especially small business owners, could only dream of. A woeful example of this issue was published in the Letters column of the Daily Telegraph on October 4 by a couple seeking planning permission to demolish an old building and build a new house:

‘It has taken my wife and me 15 months to gain planning consent to demolish an existing property and replace it with a new house, even though Stratford-upon-Avon planning department asked us to do this and said it would support the project. 

‘We were required to pay consultants to satisfy bat preservation conditions (one bat was seen flying away from the existing house in May 2022), and arboreal consultants because there were three trees in a half-acre plot, which we were not going to remove anyway. We had to pay for archaeological surveys (half a London brick was dug up and photographed) and flood report consultants – even though the Environment Agency said that the risk was minimal). The expense was eye-watering.’

The bat habitat problem has been a huge red herring for years. On our own former farm property in Devon we had some small sheds of granite with slate roofs. Some years we were delighted to find six to eight pipistrelles in residence. In other years or at other times in the same year they were not there. The point is that if bats are displaced from a roosting place they will find somewhere else. But the bat huggers will never admit this and nor will the bat regulations enforcers.

Root-and-branch reform is often used as a term to improve some system but never actually does. The planning system both nationally and locally needs to be scrapped completely and rewritten from first principles.

5 Deal with immigration – some hope!

Finally the greatest and most effective solution to the housing shortage: stop illegal immigration, severely limit legal immigration and prevent overstaying. Unfortunately this solution will never be adopted.

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David Wright
David Wright
David Wright is a former Royal Navy engineer officer, then an expatriate senior manager in the Far East for many years before running his own business in the UK. He now lives in Australia.

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